Accordionist Angst

I began music lessons on April 9.  The good news was that I had talent and an ear for music.  The bad news was that I chose to learn the accordion…in the Year of our Lord 1961.

My father was delighted!!! An Accordion carried the melody…it was a REAL instrument.  So, at the age of nine and for the next seven years, I committed to lessons every Saturday.  What had begun as a means of fitting in (my best friend from third grade played accordion, too) eventually backfired; the Beatles arrived on the American scene in 1964.  Music was changing; cultural changes were “blowin’ in the wind” and by sixteen, I was beginning to realize: I was definitely outside my generation’s norm.  My “era” was quickly passing me by.  I would never actually “fit”.

I had made my choice.  My musical ability wowed the folks and their generation!  I could live with it; just another way of making people happy…no harm in that, I thought.  I would eventually sail through this rite of passage and become a normal, functioning citizen of society.

Gradually, I began to realize that there were some logical, though not very serious, side effects from having spent Saturdays with a keyboard during my early formative years.  So, I sought therapy as others my age did.  It was time to find myself.  I shared the following concerns with my therapist:

Make yourself comfortable, Annette.  What brings you in?

All in all, Doctor, I like to think of myself as a fairly average, well-adjusted individual.

What causes you to question yourself?

In hindsight, I can identify some terribly hurtful and/or embarrassing moments for me that started to domino once I committed to taking accordion lessons…

Tell me about it.

Well, Doctor, for example:

The day came to “pick” my own junior size accordion!  I had graduated from the very small, rented, marbleized red one, so I gravitated toward the black with the shiny silver trim! It was beautiful!   Immediately, I was reprimanded,   “What’s the matter with you?  The white and gold-trimmed accordions are for girls, Annette…” so, I chose the white one instead and said I liked it when I really didn’t.   I never confessed this until now, not even in confession.

Sounds like a simple case of Gender Confusion, Annette.  Go on…

Auditions were open the next year for our elementary school music.  I was very excited to tell our school’s music teacher that I already played accordion!  I would love to participate in his class.  When I shared this with him, he responded in no uncertain terms:  “We don’t allow accordions; you’ll drown out the orchestra! “  My fellow school mates laughed at me.

But my baby sister Winifred learned from my humiliation.  She was always daring, so she kept her mouth shut about her accordion experience, and two years later chose the violin; she successfully eased right on through the school orchestra application process.  Even our cousins were impressed and thought she was really cool, especially working with cat guts and all…

I see; so you were Shunned by Public School Music Teachers and Humiliated by Peer Pressure; please continue…

After a couple of years, Winifred exceeded my musical talents… the folks would later take my original instrument for her, but they promised me a larger accordion of my own.  Daddy came home one day and presented me with a very expensive but second hand full size accordion he’d purchased from one of his floor covering customers.  Apparently, their daughter didn’t want the instrument around anymore.  Her father claimed she hadn’t played it in several years.   I was now the proud new owner of this fancy, silver-trimmed, white accordion with their daughter’s name TINA emblazoned boldly down the front in silver lettering.  We were supposed to replace it (sniff..sniff) with my own name (sniff…) but we never did…

I understand, Annette…you were simply experiencing an early Identity Crisis; it’s very common.  Here’s some Kleenex…feel free to continue when you are ready…

Thank you, Doctor… (sniff…sniff…)   It wasn’t long before I began to realize that I had other talents my school friends didn’t.   Why, I could win at game shows, not just with my grade student aptitude (in the ninetieth percentile) but also with my secret arsenal of knowledge…

Secret arsenal?  Annette, what did you have in this knowledge bank of yours?

My best category was Polkas for $500.00.  What a thrill it was for me to take the lead, sitting at home and “name dropping” composer Strauss the Younger or recording artists The Andrews Sisters or the popular Beer Barrel Polka during an evening’s rerun!  What I didn’t tell them was that my worst category was Musicians from the Sixties. By the time I “discovered” Jerry Garcia, he was designing ties for Macy’s and very soon after, he WAS dead!  So didn’t that count?

Looks like our time is up for today, Annette…

A Palm Sunday Snow Day

Palm Sunday was always one of my favorite days; I loved receiving the beautifully flexible palm frond; I had absolutely no trouble believing it was indeed as much a biblical treasure as that day’s communion.  What a lovely hand-held item to commemorate such a glorious day in the church!  We’d walk home with Mom, enjoying the sunny warmth and slightly overheated by the time we entered the house.  Anxious to place the new palm frond behind our own crucifix, we’d quickly change clothes so we could dig into the salami, cheese and bread Daddy had spread out in their original deli wraps on the breakfast nook table for him and the Mechanic to enjoy over a highball…

Decades later, here I am in the Midwest at FrogHaven and it is snowing today.  I am no longer a church regular so I am home bonding with my crock pot.  Weird…and getting weirder.  It’s supposed to be spring, yet today we are told to expect SIX inches of snow???  Snow on Palm Sunday!  The church is probably disbursing hand- woven “shovels” instead of the tenderly-woven “crosses” that are so much a part of this mainstream…

What is it about snow that brings out the squirrel in me?

Snow in Twain Harte years ago…we would be staying another night because of the roads, so I began about the kitchen scraping and foraging for everything and anything edible…color was the key; didn’t Mom always say the more color on your plate  the more nutritious?

So, I began with what was left: butter, some broccoli, some celery and carrots, a bit of leftover anything that I could combine…I concocted what was one of the best cream of broccoli soups I ever produced – under snowfall duress, mind you – yet I never wrote down the exact ingredients or their quantities; to this day, I have failed to fully duplicate that soup.

I came close once, and my mother-in-law asked me to give her my recipe.  I did but, without the fear of being snowed in and dying an untimely death, the recipe didn’t exactly compute like the version she had tasted – that time, under in-law distress – so, even she admitted,

It just wasn’t as good as yours….

Hah! If she only knew the chef humor involved.  And why I fully understand that if any chef is offering a special anywhere I roam that day, I’d better take advantage of such a treat!  I know firsthand that I may never again have the chance of experiencing such creativity or gourmand pleasure.

Snow is still rather foreign to this native Westerner.  I love watching it fall and the cardinals and wrens are beautiful – no artist can fully capture for me the heavy hand of Snow, an equal opportunity Duster, distributing its lovely white phenomenon beauty on limbs, patio tables, and decking…  Thank you, God, that You’ve once again made light of global warming worries and put such climate change discussion on hold for another day!  I only wish my sisters were here to share the crock pot serendipity on my kitchen island.

Waste not, want not.

Repeatedly, Mom never threw out anything that was still “good”.  But she only knew soups, not casseroles, so our family kitchen beheld many course meals or soup; nothing much in between, unless Daddy was going to the Italian Club that evening with the guys.  Then, Brat and I could talk her into buying us a treat from the local market: a frozen Swanson’s Dinner!  Mom was almost apologetic as she checked out, remarking she never thought she’d purchase her children a frozen dinner of any kind…school lunches were about as close as we ever came to fast food in those days under Mom’s watchful eye and budget.  Otherwise, forget anything “new” from Kraft or Swanson’s or even Chef Boyardee…they’d have to rely for their taste-testing by someone else’s children, not hers.

Yes, history if not weather is repeating itself today for this cook; I’ve foraged and gathered up lots of colorful broths and veggies; by this time in my cooking career, I’m far better prepared and even have a bit of ham to finely dice and scatter throughout the butternut squash and cream potato base.  Limas and some corn add that bit of Mardi Gras festivity to what would otherwise be just another found meal; I’ve gathered up all the extra nutrition that comes from knowing how to combine and savor every little bit of seasoning…some ground pepper and perhaps a little bit of butter will dollop the final plate.

For sure, I’ll take out some of my squirreled-away crusty bread from the freezer…this snowy Palm Sunday calls for some carbs and comfort and a glass of wine while I work on taxes.  This chef is no fool…but surely grateful that somewhere in the woodpile a frog met up with a squirrel…and a soup pot would never be the same.

 

Bi-Lingual Gig

During junior and senior high, I took French in school; much to my dismay, I wasn’t a “natural” at it, despite or because of my mother’s own pronunciation, which frequently differed with my teachers’ Parisian-style “proper” French accents.  I found it difficult to feel at ease speaking in class and at home. I found it embarrassing as well, because I was very often one of only two French descent students in French class, and my language gene wasn’t kicking in!

Raised in a home wherein English was spoken and either Pig Latin or French was used only by the adults to conceal subjects that they didn’t want “little ears” to hear, I picked up very few useful words or phrases en francais.

Should I ever find myself on a stranded island or lost in a strange part of the world, knowing how to ask for the salt and pepper or comply with the demanded  Open the window (compulsory in a one and a half bath California bungalow without fans) wasn’t going to help me survive the elements.  I consoled myself that knowing how to recite the months and days of the week would at least help me keep a diary of sorts until I was rescued.  I had also decided that under no circumstances would I request any kind of seafood; the pronunciations and spellings of fish and poison were too close for my comfort zone.  With much practice, I concluded that Hello, Please, and Thank you accompanied by endearing smiles could break the ice, at least figuratively.

Translations were absolutely no good for the hilarious jokes my uncle would tell en francais; too often, the expressions and underlying street smarts of the old country could not be correctly translated to American culture or mindset.  All the adults sitting around the dining table would be howling! I finally gave up asking What was so funny?  The translated punch lines were anything but.

Priests and nuns, however, were favorite topics of ridicule in French culture, and their implied antics survived the French to English transfer extremely well; enough so, that the Church servants became one of my most beloved objects of ridicule.  Eventually, as a practicing Protestant, I had to be fair about this and make sure ministers and even rabbis were included on occasion; but in my versions, the priest or nun was always the foiled character.

Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing defective about my beaucoup love- for- good- food- gene…it kicked into overdrive at an early age and has remained.  Today, I not only enjoy Mardi Gras, but also partake Lundi, Mercredi, Jeudi, Vendredi and most weekends…

C’est la vie

Groundhog Grief

I can’t explain the depression and the grief that imprint upon my heart an underlying ache; at least, not very succinctly.  A friend tells me that I have several good reasons that would give anyone cause to sulk or weep.  If she says so, okay.

But I can’t stand far enough away to see; my eyes are blinded by the blur surrounding me.  In fact, it is one very huge blur.  The smaller, individual components are no longer identifiable; nor are yesterday’s priorities.  Today, it is enough that I recognize the colors around me for what they are:  a kaleidoscope of unbelievably deep, jewel tones representing an emotional whirlpool.  As in a dream, I can’t find my way around or out.

Crying would be great.  I know I want to cry but don’t ask me to explain why.  Just believe me when I tell you I know. Yes, I know.  But I can’t; and won’t. My rules won’t let me.

I think I’m crashing, so as I have done after any big crisis, my inner voice is giving me permission to quietly crash.  Emphasis is on quietly, which in my rules really means to not draw attention to oneself.  Remember, others have far greater mountains to climb…

Thus far, all I can voice is a meek “Help.”  I hear it repeatedly come from my lips, even in the middle of a simple task…”Help.” And when someone within earshot wants to know what I need help with, I can’t answer.  It is enough consolation that I can still be heard…or will be heard…should I ever need to be heard.

What do I physically need?  Nothing; I have the blessings of a warm home within which a pantry and the makings of a great meal are there in easy reach.  I have clean clothes, a myriad of colorful pins and scarves from which to choose a rainbow of combinations; I can fake style as well as anyone!  I have family and friends who care about me.  My health is generally good.

Straighten up!  What is wrong with you?  Go outside and find something to do.  The messages of old still ring out, but the choices are old, too.  So, I choose to stay inside, away from brighter sun rays that might uncover my quiet despair beneath a carefully honed smile.

It is better that I adjust my focus solely on good things.  I shall begin.

I begin by methodically reminding myself that loved ones are on the mend; that good friends are seeking treatment and under care; and, while I’ve not a song in my heart yet again, the melody will eventually return to draft an entirely new chorus of praise and gratitude for His gifts.  Remembering what a good person is supposed to do when facing any veil of tears, I put myself on autopilot.

I smile. I joke. I laugh and see the irony in the mundane.  I am grateful for lots of things; especially today, I am grateful I am not a groundhog, surrounded by funny old men in top hats and tails, disturbing my real quest for another beginning, another spring…

 

 

A Numbers Game

Daddy would get depressed on occasion, but he’d always played sports, so when he no longer was active himself, he found other interests to keep him “up”.  One of these was the horse races.

Daddy loved the races, especially the buggy ones.  He loved the excitement of watching the beautiful animals vying for Win, Place or Show. His favorite numbers were 4 and 1 and 1 and 4 which he played regularly when he attended.  In fact, our family had our first color television, complements of a Daily Double that paid nearly $400.00 that particular Saturday.  The year was 1964 and the only “in color” pictures were the NBC peacock and Flipper.  No matter; the round screen RCA console was absolutely beautiful!  The Wonderful World of Disney and other programs soon followed in glorious color.

Funny how Daddy could keep the race horses’ and jockeys’ names and stats straight over the years, yet he couldn’t remember his own children’s’ birthdays!  When we needed cheap entertainment, we could always begin by giving Daddy a quiz:

Hey, Daddy…do you know all of your kids’ birthdays?

Let me see….hmmm.  Yeah…one of you was born in October…on Ike’s birthday; your older sister.

Yes, Daddy…the Pearl was born in October, on the 14th, just like President Eisenhower.

Your brother was born in June…I think… I forget the date…

Keep going, Daddy…

One of you was born around Christmas time…in December…

That’s close enough.

What about the youngest…? The Brat?

Silence.  Pause.  One could hear wheels turning…

By this time, we would be rolling.  Year in, year out:  my father could NOT recite his four children’s birthdays; at least, not all at once. Pitiful, but true.  This game was really cheap fun, especially when he was waiting for dinner to be served or was shooting the breeze with his daughters over a cocktail…we could keep him “on his toes” each and every time.  Pretty soon, he’d plead:

Okay, you got me…tell me.

Yep.  Nothing like feeling special in this house as the Christmas Eve kid…

Besides, in his mind, Daddy had more important things to deal with; like the bets he’d have to place for my godfather who was no longer allowed at the track since he was caught “booking” on the side.  Good ole’ Dad was there for his childhood friend, collecting the money each Saturday and writing down which races he’d have to place bets; the doubles; the exactas; life was getting complicated, even at the races.

And for some strange reason, Daddy’s knees and legs didn’t bother him on Saturdays nearly as much as they did during the rest of the week.  It was just amazing how youthful he could become each weekend, with that added lift to his step and innocent looking expression…like watching Ziggy appear in the flesh!

We decided to dedicate our early morning piano duet to him and when convenient, we’d embark on “Come Saturday Morning” in full harmony.  Mom would be giggling in the kitchen.  Daddy was too absorbed in the green sheet to pick up the irony until about a minute or so later…

Okay, okay, I hear you…you girls want to go in with me on a Daily Double?  I’ll let you pick the horses, I’ll put in the two bucks…here, take a look…

We had Flipper and everything else we needed; our family never did without, even with Daddy’s love for the horses.

Some days, he even managed to convince Mom to pick out horses.  Some weekday mornings, all he had to do was say the wrong thing or just enter the room; it didn’t take much to get on Mom’s nerves.  Eventually, she would hand him two bucks and suggest that he take off for Golden Gate Fields.  Daddy was no fool.

Pearl Harbor; some 70th Anniversary Reflections

Dear Readers:  This was composed in 2011 for the 70th Anniversary; I felt it appropriate to repeat it once again, as we who came after this day of infamy need to know our country’s history or be condemned to repeat it.

Bless our Veterans and Military Families and remember them year round! May God continue to Bless America and its people, among the most giving and caring on this earth. – Annette

 

Family history in our home was commonly categorized into three eras that everyone from the Greatest Generation on down ultimately understood: “before the war”, “during the war”, and “after the war”.

Like my mother, I always loved reading history.  Her passion for listening to others’ stories became mine also.  Mentors, neighbors and relatives related some tidbits from their personal experiences; other facts below were picked up from history lessons:

A young kid was working as a bag boy at a local market on the East Coast.  The news came over the radio:  Pearl Harbor had been attacked.  The young kid told his boss,

Well, we know one thing for sure: pineapples are going to go up in price!

Once this kid became of age, he joined the military, fulfilling a career in the Air Force.

A little girl came home after school, saw the photo of a man in uniform on the mantle, and began crying… the photo was actually that of her uncle, her daddy’s younger brother, but he looked enough like her daddy to shake her little soul and make her believe: Daddy had gone to war!

Many women went to work in the factories; the iconic poster Rosie the Riveter salutes their contributions during the war years…

Military wives stayed behind, keeping the house and raising their young children…

Some men hunted and brought home extra meat for their own tables and their extended families’ tables as well…

Men too old to enlist left familiar workplace jobs, choosing to work “for the war effort”…

Scrap metal was collected…

Hollywood leading men and women either enlisted and/or made feature releases, using their notoriety to sell War Bonds for the War Department…

In addition to radio and newspaper, newsreels informed the public of the latest war news; Victory At Sea was one such news reel series…

Believing Loose Lips Sink Ships, cryptic messages, codes, and other safeguards were set into place and honored by all military and civilian citizens, including Hollywood’s movie moguls and newspaper journalists.

The neighborhood kid accidentally hit his little friend in the eye.  The eye quickly started to darken; he was obviously going to go home with one good shiner!  The neighborhood kid’s mother used a frozen steak from the freezer as an ice pack on the little friend’s eye and escorted him home.  Using a steak for a poultice! During  wartime?  The little friend’s family was in awe…

When his father was killed in a freak work accident on the docks, the only son was called home from overseas; he arrived home in time to attend his father’s funeral. In his eyes, he was one of the luckier ones, having only suffered some trench foot; but as he remarked, at least he came home alive and in one piece.

Some WWII Widows were fortunate enough to meet men who came home and were willing to raise their fellow brothers-in-arms’ sons and daughters…

A little girl walked out the door one day, telling her widowed mother that she was going to search “for a new daddy”…

Growing up in the late fifties and sixties, I dusted Mom’s mantel space which was often filled with family photos.  Those extras that were older but still cherished were placed inside a dining room sideboard drawer.  We could easily access these so pulled them out on occasion to view.   Professional wedding photographs, twenty-first birthday photos, and yellowed news clippings of friends in uniform were fascinating to read.

There was a particular uncle that we knew only from his wedding photo; he had been killed during the war.  We used to visit his grave and leave flowers.  Daddy was bothered and always uncomfortable about my uncle’s death, even mentioning that he didn’t believe the remains sent home actually belonged to his brother-in-law.

Mom was more pragmatic:  it didn’t matter…they belonged to a soldier. We would leave flowers always.

 

Classics, Closets and Celebrations

The first few months went fairly well; the Spirit of ’76 had moved down in June to attend school and aggravate her mother…I believe the ‘90s term was bonding.

My Only was attending college full time.  In between coursework, she worked to condense as many of her belongings into what had originally been regarded as a good size second bedroom.  As in many older homes built after the war, the room was designed for a bed no larger than “full”.  Once we crammed a bookcase unit, desk, chair and other assorted belongings into those four walls, we were left with a narrow, designated path to walk.  My Only desperately sought more closet space.

Not that there was any extra space to be had. My Rogue was unable to fit into most of the clothes hanging in his small closet, but he hadn’t yet decided to sort through them, believing as most men that he’d fit again into the size 36 slacks someday.  So, he wore what he could breathe in, worked real estate loans and sales, and for the most part, took living with two women in stride.  He was happy to have a life again.

I took over the open closet area that had been added to the main bedroom.  Never particularly neat, I promised myself that I could maintain a sense of order.  A few months into this and the attempts were futile; I was sloppy and would remain so, open closet or not.  Besides, I was too busy maintaining my closet republican persona in the non-profit workplace. (I was one of a very few employees that remained in any type of closet.)

Times had changed.  I said goodbye to my old ’63 Mercury Monterey.  I could no longer drop money into its renovation.  My Only cried with me as we watched the tow truck drive off.  That car had seen us through some tough years. The Merc was not the only classic that we lost.  Daddy had passed away a few months earlier.  Yes, times had changed.

The Rogue and I celebrated our first anniversary the following November.  We were very happy in our little cottage. My Only threatened to throw up from time to time when “the parental units” (her words) still behaved a bit too giddy for her comfort.  The Rogue took her commentary in stride.

As the maternal parental unit, I still had my doubts about this bonding thing…